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From Strangers To Painters: Artown's Community Mural

Four people are painting different parts of a wall.
Lucia Starbuck
Community members gather to paint on a wall for a community mural as part of an Artown workshop.

Many mural-painting events let the public gaze upon artists decorating a wall. However, this July during Artown, a community workshop in Spanish Springs allowed anyone to stop by and pick up a paintbrush to add color and life to a dull white wall. KUNR’s Lucia Starbuck has more.

It’s a sunny morning at Lazy 5 Regional Park. Today, a handful of participants are gathered in front of a large, round building with a wooden dome for a roof. It’s called the Hive. The building was originally a storage unit for salt and sand for the roads. Now it has a basketball and pickleball court inside. While there are some small murals scattered against some of the walls, the group has their eyes set on something much bigger.

A person holds a clipboard with a drawing of horses and a river while painting on a wall.
Credit Lucia Starbuck
A park ranger looks over the mural design Wright prepared.

Artist Lena Tseabbe Wright is Paiute and Yurok. She’s a graduate student at the San Francisco Art Institute. She is in charge of a community mural, where anyone can come and paint on it as part of an Artown workshop. Wright sketched the ideas beforehand.

She passed out the drawings with a grid pattern cutting the image in sections. It includes the Truckee River with wild horses running from the end of the flowing water. 

A woman is painting on a wall while a man holds a photo of the painting for her.
Credit Lucia Starbuck
Lena Wright's dad, Mervin, holds up her design for a reference as she paints.

Her dad even stopped by for a little bit to see her in action and to add his own touch, painting a zig-zagged basket pattern above the river.

“I'm proud of her, you know?" Mervin Wright says, "I think that's probably the more important component of participating in this project is to be asked, to be recognized to the point where you're being asked by this community to contribute more.”

Throughout the session, different people, including a skateboarder, a group of teenagers and even one of the park’s rangers, added to it. Wright says each person’s contribution was essential to complete the mural.

A boy and girl paint on a wall.
Credit Lucia Starbuck
Two kids paint on the community mural.

“I hope they get an idea of what it's like having to paint something on such a large scale [...] and I’m hoping that people who take part in it for maybe just 10 minutes understand, wow, this is actually really hard and, like, this really does need a lot of support,” Wright says.

A building with patched tan paint on it.
Credit Lazy 5 Regional Park
The Hive in 2017.
A half complete mural.
Credit Lucia Starbuck
The mural after the first painting session.
A mural with the river, wild horses, birds and buildings on it.
Credit Lucia Starbuck
The completed mural.

Another supporter was Clayton Limacher from Kelly-Moore who donated paint for the event.

“Reno is such an art town and anyone who's been here for a while, they know that Reno, the people in the community, they love to express themselves and being downtown and now going out to Sparks. We want to keep that momentum going and letting the people create and build this city the way it needs to be built,” Limacher said.

Park Ranger, Celia Walker, explains that in addition to beautifying the building, the murals are practical, too.

“Before there were any murals or paint on the building, it was just very neglected from years of graffiti cover-up, so there was kind of every shade of tan on the building. It looked really bad. We decided when we were going to repurpose this building, we really needed to make it attractive [...] and that's really been successful with keeping graffiti and vandalism off the building,” Walker said.

Walker hopes that those who contributed to the community mural can be proud of their painting and return years later to say, “Hey, I did that.”

Lucia Starbuck is a corps member with Report for America focusing on community reporting and the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Local community issues are her passion, including the affordable housing crisis, homelessness, a lack of access to healthcare, protests and challenges facing vulnerable communities in northern Nevada.
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